Throughout its history, Federation has campaigned long and hard on issues affecting public education, teachers' salaries and teachers' working conditions, those issues which are at the heart of teaching as a profession in New South Wales.
The first Annual Conference of Federation in 1919 had listed as part of the agenda "inadequacy of teachers' salaries, understaffing of schools, unwieldiness of classes, insufficiency of accommodation, conducting of classes in sheds, corridors and unsuitable rooms to the detriment of the health of teachers and pupils". Other matters included "unhealthy congestion of school population in overgrown suburban schools, as against decentralisation into schools with a maximum enrolment of one thousand, the high percentage of unclassified and insufficiently trained teachers, inadequacy of supervision by heads of departments owing to class duties and absence of schools for the mentally disabled". Federation continues to campaign on these issues. All go to the very heart of a quality public education delivery.
In the years immediately following its establishment, Federation was concerned to increase its membership. In 1920 the membership of the Federation was 5,600 or 78% of the total membership of the Department of Education. At the end of the Twentieth Century membership was about 64,000. This number included permanent full time school, TAFE and AMES teachers, part time school, TAFE and AMES teachers and casual teachers as well as those teachers in other associated groups. Now, in the 21st Century, membership remains high.
It was not until 1937 that the first organiser was appointed, following an Annual Conference decision of 1936 that stated "we are firmly of the opinion that, for a really effective increase in membership, it is necessary that some person be employed for the whole of their time organising the schools". More officers were progressively appointed. There are now 43 full time administrative officers, who service the needs of the membership and undertake recruitment activities. The First Aboriginal Education Coordinator being appointed in 1986.
In 1961, 241,000 signatories for a National Education Petition were presented to the Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, calling for Commonwealth funding to state schools. This was the culmination of a long campaign begun in the 1940s, to encourage the Commonwealth Government to fund certain programs in State schools. This number of signatories was a record which was only broken in 1993 by a petition calling for private health insurance to be tax deductible. (To this day such programs are funded by the Federal Government.) There is, of course, an ongoing dialogue with successive Federal Governments over equitable and adequate funding of Public Schools.
Until 1968, the Union campaigned on the theme of "United Action", emphasising a community of interest between different sectors of the membership and the community, in policy development. Political, industrial and professional issues concerning public education were given focus and emphasis. There were significant advances - in 1946, for example, there was a major salaries breakthrough for teachers which gave the first realistic salary increases since 1920 and set the standard for other professional workers. The average gain was over 100 pounds for men and 80 pounds for women. Equal pay coming in 1963, with Federation among the first to gain this right for its female members.
Federation made a major break with the past in 1968, its 50th anniversary, when the first state-wide strike was called over the appalling conditions in which teachers were working. The strike was an overwhelming success - the vast majority of members stopped work and the demonstration outside Parliament House is still remembered.
Since then, industrial action has become a part of the Federation's campaigns - not as a threat to be used lightly but as one way of indicating the depth of teachers' concern.
Significant breakthroughs in salaries and working conditions have been achieved at certain points of our history. Improvements to public education have also been achieved but the Federation remains concerned with the provision of satisfactory levels of salaries to attract the highest quality teacher graduates to the public system. After the 1988 NSW State election, a radical conservative government posed a most significant challenge to the nature and shape of public education. The view put forward was that the concept of a self managing small business should be applied to public schools. This is a fight which continues in the 21st Century.
Federation knows that this is an agenda based on corporate managerial practices; cost cutting measures and not on education. We are determined to support and campaign politically and industrially to protect a state-wide public education system when it is under threat. This principle remains the centrepiece of Federation's campaigning as successive governments apply economic rationalist approaches to education.